Reader Request: Minimizing Laundry

how to wash clothes less

Reader Gabrielle popped this one into the suggestion box:

I know you have offered up a few tips here and there about getting the most wear out of clothing before washing. Could you do a post devoted to these tricks? I remember one with DIY armpit protectors in a coat, and I just canโ€™t seem to find it again.

You can see some of my other tips for wardrobe care here and here (although I’ve since reneged on the Woolite endorsement), but I’m happy to share a few more … with this important caveat:

Every woman has her own level of comfort with dirt and smells and the need to launder her garments. I’m relatively sure that my definition of “dirty” might be a leeeeeetle looser than the average person’s definition of “dirty,” which means that these recommendations may sound vaguely loony to some of you. I’m not saying that they’re foolproof, or recommending that you all implement them immediately regardless of your personal standards of cleanliness or comfort, or even that they’re fabulously innovative … just that I’ve tried them, they’ve worked for me, and that I feel my wardrobe has fared better for their implementation. Pick and choose as you see fit, as always.

DIY clothing shields: The image above is from this website, which sells prefab clothing shields. There are both disposable and washable styles on the market. I’ve also used a pair of peds, folded in half and pinned to the inner layer’s armpit hole. Washable, absorbent, and effective. Also rather hilarious.

Layer: I know that layering in hot weather holds approximately the same appeal as major dental work, but hear me out. Any absorbent under-layer will help prevent the outer layer from getting all stanked up. Even a cotton tank worn under a blazer or lightweight sweater will suck up most of your smelliness. If your outer later fits closely, make sure your under layer fits even closer. Also make sure that the arm holes on the under layer are relatively high and sit in your pits.

Air everything out: Durable pieces like sweaters, blazers, and pants are good candidates for multiple wearings without washing. When the day is done, give potentially smelly areas the sniff test and if they’re passable, turn the garment inside-out and hang it for a day or more of airing. If it’s sunny out and you aren’t worried about fading, hang in the sun. Putting slightly malodorous, slightly soiled clothes into a packed, dark, warm closet will only serve to enhance the stink. Let your clothing breathe.

Spot-treat: It’s unlikely that your “dirty” pants are dirty everywhere, am I right? I mean, unless you did some mud wrestling in them, of course. So get a large mixing bowl, fill with cool water, add a dash of detergent, and spot-treat the stinky or dirty bits either by hand scrubbing or with a clean toothbrush. A machine wash will be more effective and get more of the smells out, but spot-treating is a good stopgap.

Lower your standards: Unless a garment has been worn during strenuous exercise, a very stressful day, your period, a yeast infection, a food fight, or other activities that will cause true smelliness and/or staining, it probably doesn’t need to be laundered. I think that Western society’s obsession with “cleanliness” is a bit alarmist, and that we can conserve water and extend the lives of our garments if we launder them less. Don’t wear clothes that reek and don’t force yourself to wear items you feel are truly soiled, but try to remember that neither working in an office, nor going to classes, nor going out to a movie is likely to fill your clothing with ripe human smells. I mean socks and underwear are a different story, but outer garments? Those might not need washing after every single wear.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

Originally posted 2011-05-23 06:15:29.

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99 Responses to “Reader Request: Minimizing Laundry”

  1. Vanessa

    That’s brilliant! Could really use that for my vintage dresses that shouldn’t be cleaned to often cause they are fragile..

  2. meli22

    This is a topic I would love to discuss, but am afraid of getting judged for. Kudos to you for speaking up!

    I also believe that clothing does NOT need to be washed constantly. I mean, out in the hot 80-100 degree summer day, yeah that cami or tank top should probably not be re-worn.

    I wash pants usually after 3-6 wears, unless it gets unusally dirty (I spilled something on it, etc). I only wash to get the shape back or if it’s dirty. Underwear = wash every wear, Bra= every 2 weeks or more lol. I switch out bras, and don’t sleep in them, so they really don’t get washed often.
    Tops= 2-4 wears usually, sometimes more (same rules as pants). Camis & tanks get washed more often because they get soiled more quickly. Skirts & Jackets & Dresses- only when visibly dirty or when smelly.

  3. meli22

    Forgot to mention- I really do believe that washing less helps keep clothing looking good for longer. I have my clothes much longer than normal people, though I wear them more often. I have a pair of jeans that are a nice dark blue- a friend bought the same pair at the same time, and they are so faded she has regulated them to cleaning the yard!!

  4. coffeeaddict

    I absolutely adore and admire your candor! I believe that in this past decade people have become alarmingly obsessed with cleanliness to the point where we’re actually harming our bodies not to mention the impact on environment.
    And just because it’s now become the norm to wear and wash, I believe people are sometimes being pushed into this mentality, ashamed ‘to admit’ that they do indeed wear the same thing twice without washing it.
    I air things out thoroughly before I put them back in the closet. I do have a separate shelf for worn things and never put them back with the clean stuff. I never wear jackets and blazers on bare skin.
    I adjust the temperature level and water level on my machine when I’m washing lightly dirty clothing. I believe all never and some of the old machines have this option. I use soap nuts, have for years, with fantastic results.
    And my personal favourite: I prefer to wear skirts in rainy or snowy weather, this way my pants don’t get wet, dirty or salty. I suppose bermudas or 3/4 pants would be equally suitable.

    • Relatable Style

      I’m using the same trick, wearing skirts and boots when I don’t want my pants’ hems to get wet or dirty (talk about airport restrooms…) ๐Ÿ™‚
      But what’s actually more important: I could never really believe that wear-and-wash has become the norm anywhere in the world (in daily life, that is). So, huh, thanks for clearing that up! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Patti

    Don’t underestimate the power of a steamer to keep garments looking fresh.

  6. Melissa

    I grew up (and now live again) in semi-rural Australia where it was more normal to be in drought than not, and many places would be under tough water restrictions, so the ‘don’t waste water’ message was well-drummed in to me. (Also ‘wash with cold water’ and ‘line dry’). I don’t shower every day, and generally with clothes, if they smell ok and don’t have obvious food/dirt/whatever marks on them, they’re good to wear again. And actually, with a sticky-fingered toddler around, I’ve had to lower my standards again, otherwise I’d be changing and washing two outfits every day – and that’s just for me. A good old spot clean has prolonged the life of many pairs of jeans between washes. Not to mention the fact that sometimes I love items so much that I just want to wear them again straight away!
    I don’t put already-worn things back in the wardrobe, though, so it does mean my bedroom is almost always strewn with clothes, but that’s absolutely nothing when it does the environment so good. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Lex

    I just want to chime in and say yes, and yes! Great post.

    I agree that too many of us are obsessed with laundering clothes after we barely try them on. Airing out and spot-cleaning are two things I do regularly – the armpit protection I’m going to try asap.

  8. Franca

    I particularly agree with layering. When i do my capsule wardrobe challenges and want to get lost of wear out of an item I always wear things like tshirts or long sleeved tops underneath the thing I want to save. Not totally sure this actyully daves much on the vlume of washing, as i still have to wash the tshirts that function as undergarnments, but at least I am not damaging moy favouritest clothes with constant washing. And i don’t mind if the tshirts go faded, that’s what they’re for.

  9. Marla

    I think Febreeze has got to be the best invention ever! Just give items a few squirts and fluff them in the dryer on low heat. This works fabulous with sweaters and for items that have delicate embellishments or potential to fray so you want to minimize washing or dry cleaning. I use this method for skirts a lot since really, how dirty do skirts get? Works great for pillows and delicate throw blankets too. I use the hanging in the sunshine/breeze idea too, especially with jackets. Seriously…a bottle of Febreeze lasts forever, smells good, does not stain, removes odor and most wrinkles and makes clothes last lots longer.

  10. Jen

    I cannot say just how much I adore, love and cherish this post today! I came into the art of getting more wear out of my clothing between washings because I absolutely despise doing laundry. Or, as my husband likes to say-I take avoiding doing laundry to a fine art form. As I became an adult, and wanted to start conserving energy, resources, and most importantly water, I claim this is why I do less laundry. It sounds so much better:). I am a devotee of Downy Wrinkle Release Spray. I have a bottle on the ironing board, one in the laundry room, and one in my closet (yep…I’m that lazy!). The one that gets the most use is the one in the laundry room because I love to take worn items, spray em, and toss em in the dryer with a damp washcloth. It works like a charm on mornings when I’m in a hurry. The washcloth steams them and the spray freshens them right up. I also love to layer. I buy camisoles like no one’s business. If only I could figure out a way to get my tricks to work on my son’s laundry, I’d be golden!

  11. Shabana

    Hi Sally
    This was really helpful.I loved the spot treating idea. I agree with you that unless you reeeeeeeally have to, clothes shouldn’t be washed too much.

  12. SarahN

    Thank you for posting that last tip. Like you, I have a high tolerance for wearing items multiple times. I have some blazers and skirts that only get dry cleaned once a season. I mean, I sit on my ass at a desk all day. I’m not exactly working out in the fields. For machine washable items, I try to do everything in cold water on the delicate cycle.

    If it’s in your budget, invest in a good garment steamer. I also second Jen’s suggestion of a quick steaming in the dryer.

  13. Kaitlin

    I’m new to your blog and love it! The only items of clothing I wash after each wear are underwear and camisoles because in FL camisoles get gross easily. Pants, skirts, bras, dresses, etc can all be worn at least 3-4 times between washing. Regarding downy wrinkle release/ spraying with water, I find that a travel size squirt bottle with water and 3drops of lavender oil both releases wrinkles and refreshes clothes! Plus, I have super sensitive skin, and even dye/fragrance free detergent bothers me, so the less washing the better!

  14. angie

    Nice post.

    I don’t like ironing either, but I’ve found that it’s hands down the best way to minimize laundry. A freshly pressed garment looks amazing no matter how many times you’ve worn it.

    Also, deodorants like “Certain Dri” prevent perspiration. No sweat pads necessary. And also no stains.

  15. Hearthrose

    I wash my skirts every second wearing (or so) and my shirts every wearing – but I’m a housewife, and my clothes are largely cotton. (Housewives are known for cooking and cleaning, neither of which leaves clothing smelling fresh from the dryer).

    Those clothes that I have that are “nice” and drycleanable honestly see very little wear – and I wear them until they’ve got a stain or smell even after airing out. If they’re nice and handwashable, same deal. I wash my bras about every week, but I only have three that I rotate through, and they get handwashed.

    I must recommend the humble apron – it’s marvelous for extending the life of your clothing. I wear my aprons until they’re pretty dirty – dirty enough that I don’t feel good about using them as hand towels anymore! ๐Ÿ˜‰ (Wear an apron that covers you – most don’t).

  16. Anonymous

    This is such a great topic! You know, I thought I was the only one who puts my worn work clothes right back into the closet. I was actually slightly ashamed about that…

    First of all, I am really lucky to have very little body odour, and even in our hot and humid summers I usually don’t need to launder shirts, skirts or dresses – almost ever. I hate laundering because I’ve found it to be the quickest way to ruin clothes (ruins either the colors or the fabric), so if I can avoid sticking my favorites into the laundry bin, I will always opt for that.

    If for some reason my clothes are stinked up – for example, I’ve been in a smelly restaurant (that kind of greasy smell that sticks to clothes), or in a smokey environment, I may air the clothes as you suggested, or stick them into the dryer, possibly with some freshner, or a sheet of softener.

    And as for wrinkles, I’ve heard of a trick where you put the wrinkled culprit into the bathroom when you’re taking a hot shower. The steam is supposed to help it de-crease.

    • Anat

      (This is my post, it got posted under anonymous by mistake.)

  17. Irene

    Wow, people wash clothes (not underwear/socks or things that do get truly dirty) after every wearing? Who has that kind of time? And it beats up your clothes something fierce.

    I’ve been using the ‘hang up and air out’ trick for ages and spritzing with Febreeze occasionally, but just found out about a new trick I’m going to try: dilute cheap vodka with water (there are various recipes on the interweb) and spritz clothes after wearing to freshen/remove smells. You can add a little lavender oil if you want to really pretty up. Also, vodka apparently makes a good spot cleaner (alcohol=solvent).

    I love ironing (any manual labour with visible results is relaxing to me) but maybe I should invest in a good steamer.

    On another note: has anyone got any good tips on handwashing cashmere? I got a bunch of sweaters on a great end-of-season clearance, and I’d like to get off the dry cleaning merrygoround.


    • JennyDC

      I just wash mine in the bathroom sink with some Woolite. Squash them around a bit to get the soapy water all through the sweater, let it sit a bit (or longer if you forget about it), then rinse well. Squeeze out the water as best you can, but don’t wring the sweater. I usually lay the sweater on a towel on the floor, roll it up, then stomp on it to squeeze out the water. Then I dry it flat on the top of my drying rack, which has a mesh/net top. It works very well and they don’t get crunchy or chemical-smelling, which can happen when you dry clean. I haven’t tried this on wool sweaters, but clean all my cashmere sweaters this way.

    • rb

      I do wash my cashmere sweaters about once a year. I learned all of the following from being an obsessive knitter/knitting groups online.

      I use Dawn dishwashing detergent or a special wool cleaner called Euclan. Only a few drops, though, otherwise too hard to get out! I wash each sweater individually in my largest mixing bowl, minimally agitating it and then letting it soak. I refil the bowl with clear water several times and put the soapy sweater back in to let the detergent sort of bubble to the surface. I squeeze out the moisture without wringing, then lay the sweater on a towel, then roll up the towel with the sweater inside and stand on it to get moisture out. Then lay the sweater flat to dry.

      Cashmere after being washed is incredibly fluffy! Almost like an angora sweater from the 1950s. It’s called a “bloom” among knitters. Despite my strict rule not to handwash dry clean only items, I actually think cashmere does better with a good dunking. Dry cleaning makes it a bit stiff and smelly, don’t you think?

      • Erika A

        rb – Any tips on washing cashmere that has a bad smell? I have a cashmere sweater that I wore at a point in my life when my body odor was actually offensive (not just normal sweating smell) and now the neck and pits of the sweater smell very bad, even after hand-washing with a little gentle soap. I cannot use chemicals like febreeze, so I’m looking for something mild I could add to my handwash that might neutralize the odor. Do you think baking soda would ruin the cashmere?

        • paisleyapron

          I have a problem with body odor hanging on in tight-fitting sweaters. To solve this problem I put full-strength vinegar in a spray bottle and spray it on the arm pit area when I am done wearing them. I usually hand wash with Soak ( no rinse) soap and there’s no vinegar smell left over. This has also worked on my well-worn cotton t-shirts.

          • Erika A

            Vinegar! Of course. Great idea, thank you. I will try this on my cotton sweaters too.

      • Katharine

        I wash our cashmere sweaters in the washer, gentle cycle, cold, in laundry bags, and hang them to dry. I live on the edge!

        On the other hand, they are fine.

        • Irene

          Oooh, good to know! My washer actually has a ‘handwash’ cycle. I’ve never tried it, but it would make things much easier if I could use it.

      • Irene

        Thanks so much to both of you for these suggestions! Just hearing that other people have done it and succeeded is so helpful.

        Now I just need to invest in a good drying rack and I’ll be all set!

    • Elizabeth

      I use the wool & cashmere shampoo from The Laundress and I LOVE it. I have several cashmere sweaters that I wore all through my children’s toddler-hood and you would never know they’re not brand new! (I have a high-end high efficiency washing machine and I use the delicate cycle.) I use their delicates wash for everything else. Dry Clean Only labels are a total lie – I wash EVERYTHING.

      Their website is worth looking at for information but I wouldn’t buy the products there because you have to pay shipping. I usually get it from, since it’s easy to rack up enough stuff to get free shipping. Their stuff is not inexpensive but it’s a heck of a lot better than drycleaning!

  18. Andi

    The only things I wash every wearing are underpants, socks, sport bras and the t-shirts I run in. Everything else, it really depends. I do find that washing is necessary to bring shape back to certain clothes like jeans after 2-3 wearings. Regular bras hardly ever need it. Dress clothes get worn so infrequently, I can usually go a season or so without cleaning them.

    When in doubt, I use Dryel and a good pressing and I’m good to go.

  19. M

    Yay! Awesome and honest post!

    I’m a big fan of layers. I do walk a lot as part of my normal day to day activities (I don’t own a car in southern California!) so I do sweat. I just pretty much wash my undies and the layer closest to my skin on top (tshirt, cami, etc.) each time. Besides that, if it doesn’t smell, I’ll wear it again.

    I’m also a huge fan of dark colors because between my sweatiness and uncorrdination at times, it helps me rewear stuff more before washing. Sometimes if I wear white, it’s dirty before I even walk out the door. It’s also worth thinking about this when buying clothing items. I recently purchased a skirt I LOVE (the comfy skirt from Texture Clothing) and I will seriously wear the skirt for nearly every day for 2 weeks before washings and it’s fine. The fabric wears well over long times and does not wrinkle as badly as some of my other skirts.

  20. Linda

    Ahahaha. I’m not sure my standards could GET any lower. I don’t even necessarily wash my gym clothes after every wear (I am just not that terribly sweaty when it’s not summer, and to be honest I don’t work out that hard either). I wear skirts mostly, and practically never wash them. I do wash shirts more often, clearly–in summer, usually after every wear–but I probably have some things I’ve never washed, LOL.

    My only tip is: unscented deodorant. The smell of the scented kind drives me nuts anyway, but it then rubs off on your shirt as an ever-present reminder that it hasn’t been washed.

  21. Annika

    I almost always wear a thin cami underneath and that gets washed after each use. Otherwise my routine is to hang whatever I have worn that day outdoors under our patio roof for one night, then it goes back into the closet. Airing out clothing is the key ! The slightly damp night air will get all creases out of cotton, wool or linen garments.

  22. Anne

    Sally, I wish I could get the 3 men in my life to read this post (2 boys & the hubs) Although I really don’t mind ironing or laundry, I don’t care to spend every day doing it, nor do I want to give all my $$$ to the cleaners. I try to institute these rules with varying rates of success: 1. Don’t dump it on the floor, look every thing over first. 2. Undies, socks, and t-shirts worn for more than a few hours go straight into the hamper and not on the floor. (sense a pattern here?) 3. Put away the stuff that doesn’t have spots on it.(in the closet, NOT THE FLOOR!) 4. Change out of the good stuff right when you get home. Go ahead and wear the stuff that’s on your floor now.

    I took a lot of textile science classes in college so my family has been treated to many lectures about fabric care and how ultimately all that un-necessary laundering ruins their favorite clothes. My one exemption is white clothing. In my life, it almost always needs to be washed after only one wearing. I’m sure it means that I should give up the white or spend more time cleaning my house but I refuse to do either!

  23. Lucinda

    Sal, have you ever thought of buying a steamer? I have one that was bought for $5 from a pawn shop, and I’d be lost without it. I hate ironing, and a lot of the fabrics that I wear don’t cope well with being ironed either. With my steamer, I can hang my clothes up over a door handle and run the steam over them a few times and hey presto, all the wrinkles are gone and they look fantastic.

    I think some steamers can be expensive to buy new, particularly the huge industrial-sized ones that they use in stores, but the smaller ones are still effective and I’m sure you could get one second-hand fairly easily.

    • Sal

      Ya know, I’ve got a little handheld one from Target and it just doesn’t work. Maybe I need to invest in a better one!

  24. Lucinda

    Also: I love this post! I have long been a proponent of only washing my clothes when it’s really necessary. I cherish my clothing and want it to look good for as long as possible, and I’m a little bit horrified when I see what happens to garments that are washed very frequently and unnecessarily. Some people even wash their clothes *before* they wear them, after they bring them home brand new from a shop! I’ve never understood that – most clothes are never quite the same after they’ve been washed for the first time, and I like to keep that brand-new feeling as long as possible.

    I have an office job where I’m sitting on my bum in an airconditioned environment all day, and I shower and apply deodorant every morning, so my clothes *really* don’t ever get that sweaty or smelly. I’m fairly sure my partner or family members would tell me if I was ever a bit smelly, so I’m confident that I’m not stinking the place up without being aware of it!

    • Kris

      I have to wash new clothes – otherwise I get a rash from the chemicals in the sizing. It’s not such a big deal for jackets, as I’m wearing shirts under them, but for stuff that goes against my skin, I have to wash it!

  25. Diana

    OK, so full disclosure first: I am remarkably un-smelly, and my sweat most of the time does not either smell or stain. I don’t use deodorant/antiperspirant either so don’t get stains from that either. I realize that I am incredibly lucky in this regard!

    That said, I am pretty cavalier when it comes to washing clothes and will often wear things several times before laundering. Underwear and socks get washed after every wear, but everything else is subjected to the smell test unless it has visible stains. I do have a very sensitive sense of smell though! I do not wear perfume and use unscented detergent, so I know that I can usually pick up any off smells before most other people can.

  26. anya

    I completely completely side with you girls, but maybe to some people 1 wear 1 wash is necessary. Like for most man, a t-shirt has 1 wear lifespan. A pair of jeans, maybe a week or so. It all depends of the person. I myself wash my skirts only after sniff test, and the knits after 2-3 wears.

  27. Mel

    I have an incredibly dirty job. There are days where I deal with mud flying at me, dirt spraying into my face, grease, other people’s bodily fluids, rotting food and animal mess, all in the same day. So obviously those clothes are immediately washed.

    I have to have a dual wardrobe for that reason, all my work clothes involve yoga pants and shorts, tank tops and men’s t-shirts. I also have separate bras and socks for my job, since sports bras keep the girls from hitting me in the face during the physical parts of my job, and I need good moisture wicking socks for my steeltoes. All my denim and nice fabrics are for my time off. I wish I could save energy and water by not washing half my clothes every week, so I try to employ most of these tricks with my other wardrobe.

    At least being *actually* dirty all the time really opens my eyes to how NOT dirty I become going for a walk with my S.O. or seeing a movie. Pants can go a long time between washings, t-shirts can be worn at least twice, if not more often, hoodies and coats might only need to be washed a few times during the entire season. Any base layers I wear, socks and undies mostly get washed way more frequently. Bras are a different story, because if all I’m doing is working on a certain day, I’ll have only worn a work bra, so my girly bras go months between washings, because they’re on a rotation and I don’t always wear them. My camisoles are usually cotton and I’m not especially smelly, so I smell-test those.

    I’m glad all of you have stepped forward with realistic views on clothes-cleanliness, because all my friends seem like uber-washers, which can be intimidating to me when we start discussing these things.

    • Andi

      Mel, do you work in a zoo?!? I can’t figure out what else you could be doing from that description, LOL.

      • Mel

        Actually I detail cars to pay the bills right now. You would not even believe the things that some people put their vehicles through, somedays there are two inches of mud covering everything, and some days you go inside a car and a toddler or pet has created a mess beyond the nastiest mess you can imagine.

        Most people wouldn’t even think it could be that bad, haha ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. Trystan (the CorpGoth)

    FABULOUS post! As an amateur historian, I’ve known that our modern “standards” for cleanliness are really arbitrary & relatively new & don’t especially help anything. Our bodies & our garments don’t benefit from fanatical scrubbing down with detergents. If you can’t see dirt or smell sweat, it doesn’t need to be cleaned.

    My hubbi & I have stylish laundry baskets at the foot of our bed. We each do our own laundry & have our own rotation system of airing out clothes by hanging them over the edge of the laundry basket. Prob. not the most attractive, but we shut the bedroom door when guests come over ๐Ÿ˜‰

  29. patni

    I am with you all the way! I wash when something is stank, or has visible dirt. A lot of vintage clothing was just not made to be washed continually, and it will fall apart fast. Even modern clothing self destructs with constant washing. I wash t shirts undershirts and underpants after a wearing. Also socks. I like to wash my bras every time i wear them, but i am a size 32 GG or H. Those babies are expensive and i never have enough to last a week.
    I have a job where i get actually dirty, so I have clothes for that. Washable cheap, thrifted, cute but destroyable. This is also where Vintage goes when i find it with a stain that means i cant sell it or wear it for fancy, but it is too cute to waste.
    I use undershirts for the pit problem. I often take a long sleeved thing cotton one, and cut a really really low neck, and make the sleeves 3/4 length so it fits under cleavagy dresses.
    My epiphany: a steamer. I was starting to sell on etsy, and needed something to get the wrinkles out. I HATE to iron. I got a brand new steamer on amazon for $40. It works like a dream, is no bother at all, and to boot, the steam seems to freshen fabrics no end. best forty bucks i spent in ages.

  30. GingerR

    Wellll, I’m in favor of reduced washings, but I also think if you’ve worn something and gotten damp while wearing it, even with a cami on underneath, you don’t want to wear it too many more times.

    When things that’ve been sweaty-damp once dry out, and then get sweaty again the original sweat/smell is reactivated. You may not notice it, but other people may. If you use perfume it’ll rise to smell again also.

    I might not wash a skirt or a sweater on every wearing, but I extend the every wash rule to blouses and t-shirts. Nothing is worse than sitting next to someone who smells.

  31. Mrs.M in MI

    I have to sing the praises of Dryel. I love wool, silk, and other quality fabrics but HATE dry cleaning. One, it ruins your clothes; two, it’s expensive.

    Dryel is not so good at removing bad stains but it can remove light ones and it will definitely remove stank. Even my most-often-worn dry clean only clothes go to the cleaners once a year, tops.

  32. rb

    Here’s a tip I learned the hard way in my twenties – change your clothes when you get home, and HANG UP your dressy clothes when you take them off. It took me years of spending boatloads at the dry cleaner, and ruining dry clean only garments trying to hand wash them, before I realized this. I would pile things on a chair or on the bench at the foot of my bed, and then next time I went to wear them, they wouldn’t have aired out and they’d look too rumpled to wear.

    I now reserve a coat-hook or two on the front wall of my closet to hang the items I just took off, to give them a little air before they go back into the fray. This also allows them to hang straight and unencumbered to get loosen any creases caused by sitting (skirts, pants and dresses) or bending the arms (jackets or blouses) or tucking in (blouses.)

    I also spot-clean my dry-clean-only items instead of automatically taking them to the dry cleaners. I do not ever completely hand wash them. I’ve never had luck with complete water immerson not completely ruining the drape of a garment.

    My first line of spot cleaning is just using a good stiff lint brush to get little spots out. This works really well on anything made of wool (I wear wool gabardine pants and skirts year round.)

    Second, I try to absorb anything greasy with powder – I find foot powder works best for this. There are also little sticks that you can rub on stains that do the same thing as the powder, but maybe a little easier to use. Then I use the lint brush to brush the powder away, hopefully the grease along with it.

    I do not use a Tide stick or anything like that on a dry clean only item – it will absolutely ruin it.

    And lastly, if I can’t get the spot out, I give up and take it to the dry cleaner as soon as possible for the best chance of saving the garment.

    I only ‘routinely’ dry clean items that aren’t stained once per year. You heard me, once per year!

    In terms of washables, I do wash anything that was right next to my body every time I wear it. But I hang dry just about everything other than underwear. I am convinced items last twice as long without fading or pilling if they aren’t tumble-dried.

    • Eleanorjane

      Yes, I’ve had several unhappy handwashes of ‘dryclean only’ garments. They’ve never come good, even after drycleaning again. But, then again, many things (like as silk) that say ‘dryclean only’ are fine to handwash. And it is much cheaper doing it yourself…

  33. Kris

    I work in a hot humid environment, with a lot of water. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s not exactly dirty, but I do get super sweaty (and sometimes wet!) when I work. Then after work I usually go for a trail walk/jog in the same clothes, or bike home, and pretty much everything but the skirt I was wearing needs to be washed!

    I have to say that now, since I don’t have my own washer and it’s $$ to use the one in the building, I re-wear things more often. I also went out and bought a whole bunch of inexpensive colourful t-shirts to wear under various dresses this summer, in the hopes that I can re-wear the dresses. When I’m lounging around the house with the cats, I wear PJs, to minimize the amount of fur on my leaving-the-house clothes. So far it’s working!

  34. Rachel LeRoy

    For the underarm pads – Payless Shoes sells cut-to-fit insoles. I bought some to replace the torn-up insides of a pair of converse sneakers. They could probably be used for this purpose too, and they are under $3 for 2. you could probably cut them each into 2 pieces, so you’d get 4 total.
    I have not used Downy wrinkle releaser but I have used Dryel’s similar product and it works great.

  35. Stephanie

    Great post! Thanks for the wonderful tips ๐Ÿ˜€ I live in an area of high humidity, so every day is a stanky, sweaty day for me, even in the office.

    I have to wash my slacks and blouses after every wear, and I quickly ruined several outfits this way before I discovered that I didn’t need to use NEARLY as much detergent as the instructions said to use (I use maybe a tablespoon), and that I could wash everything on Cold and Delicate. Plus, I dry all of my clothes on low heat and skip the dryer all together on some of my more prized possessions–my dining table doubles as a flat drying surface for slacks and knit tops ;D

    Have a great week!

  36. abby

    After years and years living in places where laundry was not only off-site but costly, I learned to re-wear things for the sake of convenience and cost and because if I really love an item, I don’t want to say goodbye to it after one wearing for god knows how long until I get to the ‘mat.

    I’m also happy having lower/different standards than many despite also having a pit BO issue. On this topic, I can say that I’ve tried any and all deodorants in my life and have finally found that the crystal SPRAY is the answer. Like Linda said above, deod smell on clothes reminds you that they’re not clean clean and with the crystal, you just smell your own scent, not necessarily horrible BO. I have gotten used to the smell of something after I wear it — and there is a difference between BO and actual odor of your own body which we could all use to get more comfortable with.

  37. patni

    and yes! on the unscented deodorant. I hate putting on sweaters and shirt with the cheap perfume smell of the scented stuff. It never seems to go away.
    No antiperspirant or what ever stops me sweating BTW.

  38. Kay

    Wonderful tips!!!

    I also notice that I don’t have body odor for a long time and suddenly when it comes back, its time for a detox using herbal teas /liver cleanse / anti inflammatory diet. then the body odor goes away. This might not be easy for many people, though.

  39. katie d.

    Definitely if you wash and dry your clothing too much, it wears MUCH faster. I also always wash on cold and inside out! I ditto the comment about unscented deodorant. And I wash most things as little as possible.

  40. Anat

    Oh! Just remembered another one. I keep my work clothes far away from my animals. I switch to home-attire whenever I get home and put my work clothes back into my (strictly animal-free) walk in closet.

  41. Megan Mae

    I employ all these. I’m trying to get Hubs to realize jeans rarely need to be washed (unless you’ve spilled, sweated ALOT or otherwise). Having read actual science studies about the dirtiness of denim after so many wearings, it’s better to wash jeans as little as possible. Very few things get worn only once before going into the laundry pile. Socks, undies, shirts. Everything else – aired out, sniffed, looked over and put away.

  42. Michelle

    I wash trousers/jeans/skirts maybe once a month? And that’s with working with dirt (am a soil scientist) I’m a huge fan of sunshine and a good clothes brush ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I’m going to have to try some peds in my armpits. The weather here is dictating the need to wear a merino layer and I hate having to wash my wool stuff each week.

    That said I do have different wardrobes for the different things I do….I get super sweaty when I ride my bike or iceskate so I have an appropriate wardrobe (that I’m not particularly worried about killing) for each activity.

  43. hellotampon

    I hardly ever wash my clothes. I am a CNA (wiping butts all day in a nursing home) so my scrubs get washed with every wear, and so do my socks and underwear. Aside from that, I’m lucky if anything gets washed.

    I guess it helps that i don’t actually WEAR my clothes that much. When I’m at work, I’m in scrubs, and when I’m at home, I’m in “house clothes” which for me are usually pajamas. If I go out multiple times a day I still take off my clothes when I get home and lay them over a chair until it’s time to leave again. I’m pretty sure I started doing this for the sole purpose of not stretching out my clothing or putting some other kind of wear and tear on them.

    Spraying stinky pits with alcohol and hanging clothes on the outside of the curtain rod while I shower work pretty well for freshening my clothes.

    • Stephanie

      Wow! I’d never have thought of spritzing stinky pits with alcohol! I’ll have to give it a shot ๐Ÿ™‚

  44. Audi

    I love these tips! Count me in among those who think Westerners are freakishly obsessed with cleanliness. I usually get 3-4 wears out of tops and dresses even if I don’t layer; many more wears for pants, skirts and blazers. Then again I live in an incredibly mild, non-sweaty climate, which helps a lot.

    One consideration I’d add is the choice of antiperspirant, because many of them leave those nasty white marks on clothes. After trying DOZENS of brands, I can finally recommend one: DERMAdoctor Total Nonscents Ultra-Gentle Antiperspirant. It’s a roll-on, so you need to allow it a couple minutes to dry, but it really and truly keeps you dry and non-smelly without marking up your clothes. It’s pricey (~$20), but it goes a long way, and is gentle on your skin. My assumption is that it’s also gentler on the clothes when it comes in contact with them.

    I also use a garment steamer to freshen up clothes that have been worn a couple times. After getting the garment nice and steamy I give it a good shake and let it air dry. Whether it actually removes any dirt and odor is anyone’s guess, but I FEEL like my clothes are cleaner afterward. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ditto on changing directly after work and hanging clothes up, as well as keeping nice clothes away from pets. Lint rollers are also a pet owner’s friend.

  45. tiny junco

    Yes. i’ve re-worn unwashed items for decades. i’m hard on clothes as it is, all that washing and tumble-drying eats ’em up.

    wash cold, delicate, use as little detergent as you can (test it) – baking soda is great on odors and easy on clothes. i only tumble dry items under extreme duress – socks, undies, they all get hung out to dry. blouses look much better when dried on a padded hanger with the shoulder seams arranged along the line of the hanger arms and the top of the armscye (arm seam) right at the end of the hanger arm.

    my only quibble with anything said here is – DO NOT iron over a stain or any smells, as the heat will set it and make it very hard to impossible to get out!

    also, i keep one to two feet of empty closet rod at the end of my closet to hang up clothes to air out – i keep the sliding door on that side open so it works well. personally, i don’t care for the ‘shampoo, conditioner, deodrant, lotion, dryer sheet’ smell of the overly clean modern person. steph

  46. Kristina L

    Love the post! I’m also in the ‘wear it as long as you can between washings’ camp and am trying to convert my husband. (Who, like other people’s husbands, is in the habit of throwing his clothes on the floor at the end of the day, and then all his stuff seems dirty on wash day.)

    A while ago I read that pantyliners (the thin ones) make good under-arm sweat guards. Just press the sticky side to the inside of your shirt sleeve and you’re good to go. I haven’t tried it yet, but now that summer is here and the sweat factor is higher, I will see if it works.

    • Trystan (the CorpGoth)

      I’ve used pantyliners (unscented, always!, & pref. w/out wings) inside the armpits of fancy dresses/historical costumes as dress shields. They work great & are obviously easier to find & cheaper than “proper” dress shields (pictured at the top of the blog). Perfect for dry-clean-only stuff on sweaty days ๐Ÿ˜‰

  47. candice

    I live quite a distance from laundry machines, so I try to stretch my clothing as long as possible.

    My wardrobe staple is a fleece jacket. Up here in the Northwest, it is often very cool for at least part of the day, so I almost always wear a zip up fleece jacket when I leave in the morning. I wash these maybe once every two weeks and often spot treat them in between washes.

    I hand wash the two bras I own, going back and forth week to week. Jeans get at least three or four wears, unless I’m working in a lab with smelly chemicals/bacteria. I wear my pullover cable knit sweaters (another staple) at least twice and I almost always layer a tank under any top.

    Natural fibers really soak up smells (at least in my experience) so I like to shop for polyester, rayon, etc. if only for practicality’s sake. I do own a few cashmere/silk shrugs and cardigans. These get hand-washed after each wear due to smell, although I’ll admit to throwing them in the washer since they are all thrifted pieces anyway.

    More formal clothes only get washed on occassion. My day to day life is casual, so aside from church, symphony, other important events, I’m happy to air out my skirts and blouses several times before washing them.

    Thanks for the great tips. After reading through the comments I am seriously considering buying a steamer!

  48. AW

    I love this post!

    I have the terrible misfortune of being a supremely stinky and voluminous sweater. Which means that my shirts almost always get washed after one wear.

    Sweaters, however, can go several wears because I usually layer something underneath.

    Trousers / blazers / dry-clean dresses… get cleaned maybe once a season. Less if I’ve only worn them once or twice. (In fact, I have a nice silk dress I haven’t cleaned in over a year, because I’ve only worn it three times.)

    Skirts / pants / jeans get washed only when they’re dirty or totally misshapen.

    Socks, unders, gym clothes & pajamas get washed every wear.

    I catch a lot of flack from a friend because I wear different pj’s every night. But I have to, because I sweat so much while I’m sleeping that I often wake up drenched. Who wants to re-wear those stinky wet smelly pj’s? Occasionally, if I’m wearing a sleeveless nightie, I can get away with wearing it two nights. Maybe.

    Bras every couple weeks… but I rotate a lot.

  49. Nadine

    I wash a lot, but I lead a dirty lifestyle (hoho). I am VERY active and I have pets and sons and I live in the country. I wash my work clothes after one wearing, but my ‘civvies’ usually last for 2 or 3 goes.

  50. Serena

    Great ideas here. You’ve mostly hit my favorites–three-day jeans, airing clothes out in the sun–so I’ll only mention my more drastic measures. We live in Oaxaca, which is usually warm and relatively dry, so we just wear less clothing to save doing laundry. Sleep nude or nearly nude, skip socks except when working out, wear thin fabrics and skip the outerwear. If I plan to exercise later in the day, I start the day with my tank or camisole for working out, either as a stand-alone piece or a layer under an embroidered blouse. We live in tight water conditions so, as the water warms up for the shower, I rinse clothing in it. When we visit the beach, we often start showering in our clothing, soaping up and rinsing it before doing a final quick rinse without clothing.

  51. Amy

    My mentality about washing clothes really changed when I studied abroad in London in college… London is one of the most expensive cities in the world and their coin-op laundry is no exception! I became a master of Febreezing/Downy Wrinkle Releasing outerwear, washing undies in the bathroom sink and airdrying EVERYTHING while I lived abroad. Not to mention I backpacked for 10 days before I settled in the city, and backpacking totally changes your definitions of the words “clean” and “necessity.”

    Since graduating I’ve only ever lived in buildings with coin-op laundry, so I’m used to sorting through clothes that are genuinely in need of laundering, and clothes that are acceptable to wear again. Not to mention I’m VERY picky about how I wash my clothes, so to separate and launder everything JUST how I want to would cost me a good $20/laundry basket. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way!

  52. S. of Narrowly Tailored

    I’m sure this has been said along the way, but I swear by our dryer’s steam cycle. It only takes 15 minutes, and has saved me more trips to the dry cleaner than I can count!

  53. Anat

    The comments to this post are amazing. This is something no one ever talks about (as mentioned, I was even ashamed of my sporadic laundering habits), and yet we are all deploying the same techniques all over the world. That’s pretty cool, and good to have it out in the open and exchange additional ideas.

  54. Lola

    Another useful hint: I am a bit well-endowed, and I have to wear good-fitting, expensive bras. As they have to be handwashed, this is a nuisance sometimes (especially in hot, humid weather). In order to prolong the use of my bras to 2 days in hot weather, I put half a paper handkerchief under each of the girls in the bra. Works like a charm (and does not “stuff” the bra, in case inquiring minds want to know).

  55. Stacybeads

    Ugh, summer is here in the south, so multiple wearings will not be in the cards for the next few months. At other times of the year, I generally wear tops twice and bottoms more than that, before laundering. In between, Febreeze is my friend!

  56. ABCD for Michelle

    Great tips! I love the DIY clothing shields. It’s not good for your clothes to wash them too often, so I’m always looking for ways to make them last longer between washings. Thanks, Sal!

  57. Henni

    A good deo helps. There was a period that I sweated so much that I wanted to change my top at 11 AM. Now I found a deo that really works, you apply it once in five days in the evening, wash it off the next morning, and you are fine for the next five days. A big advantage is also that this way you don’t get deo stains in your clothes, which are not exactly better than sweat stains.

    Also, when I get grease or something on my fingers and there is no water/tissue at hand, I used to wipe it off on my pants. Now I took over a habit I saw from a colleague, he reaches down to his socks, which get washed after one day.

  58. Cel

    I definitely sniff-test my clothes at the end of the day. If they stink, in the wash they go. If they do not, I check them for stains or guck or something (I’m a messy eater, gotta say) and unless there’s something on the item, back into the closet/dresser it goes for another day. I see no point in washing something if it neither looks or smells dirty.

  59. tanya

    I too can tend to have a “sweaty pits” problem & living in hot, humid Houston is a problem. Many years ago my dermatologist wrote me a prescription for drysol. It’s a liquid containing alum, especially for this problem. I only have to use it for a short period of time every few years & it’s a miracle! No excessively wet spots under my arms! I highly recommend it.

  60. sandra

    Generally, I only wash clothing if it fails the smell test or has an obvious stain or mark. I also wash most things in cold water, delicate cycle, and only dry clothes just long enough to remove wrinkles. I then let them air dry. This helps keep color from fading and stuff from shrinking. I use Mrs. Meyers clean day laundry detergent or Seventh Generation detergent. No harsh, earth unfriendly chemicals to fade my clothes. My clothes are in excellent condition and hardly look like I’ve worn them a million times. The smell test also works for my dry clean items.

  61. Allison

    Hey, has anyone heard of MyClothingHelper? It hangs on your clothes hanger and keep tracks of how many times you’ve worn an item and/or the last time you wore it. Plus it helps track clothing freshness which I thought you guys might find useful!

  62. Mandy

    I agree that clothes do not need to be washed after every wear. We live in Colorado which is a dry desert environment. My kids seem to think as soon as that piece of clothes comes off it goes into the laundry basket, so I have to go through all their clothes and make sure it’s truly dirty.
    We don’t have a washer and dryer so I hand wash everything in homemade laundry soap after a good spritz with my stain treatment (dish soap and hydrogen peroxide mix) . I suffer from excessive sweating myself, no matter the deodorant, so I’ve learned a few tricks to saving my shirts and honestly panty liners are a life saver! I cut them in half and stick them to my shirts and/or around my bra band under my pits. Saves a lot on wear and tear from constant laundering.

  63. Piano Player

    If you have a hard time remembering how many times youโ€™ve worn an item, hereโ€™s a good way of keeping track: If you wear your button-down shirts more than once, when itโ€™s clean, hang it in your closet with the top button closed. After youโ€™ve worn and aired it out, return it to your closet, with just the second button closed. The open top button indicates youโ€™ve worn it once. For zippered pants/jeans, when itโ€™s clean, hang it with the zipper all the way up. After wearing and airing it out, put it back in the closet with the zipper pulled down a fraction. After two wearings, pull the zipper down a little more, and so on with each wearing. The length of the unzipped portion indicates how many times youโ€™ve already worn it. For pullover sweaters, after one wearing, fold one sleeve up a bit. After two wearings, fold both sleeves up. I’ve been doing this for years, and I always remember if I’ve already worn something.

  64. Piano Player

    Regarding my tip on remembering how many times youโ€™ve worn an item, you, of course, have to remember at the end of the day how many buttons were open and how far down the zipper was so you can put the item away correctly. I do this by leaving the hanger on my made-up bed, at the head for clean, a little way down for having worn once, middle of bed for having worn twice, and at the foot if the item needs to go into the laundry basket after wearing it that day.

  65. Hi

    That’s my problem. I sweat under my arms so badly, that I cannot wear the same thing twice. I have a system that must be followed or else my “wardrobe” with become so smelly, that it’ll have to be disposed of. Seriously, I’ve gotten rid of shirts because of my problem with perspiration. Tops have to be washed after every wear, twice with detergent and once with water only. By wear two my tops look as if I’ve had them for a month. So, I am going to purchase some peds. Hopefully they’ll help. I will also make it a point to stop washing my pants after every wear. I’ll just air those things out. Although I am afraid that some strange odor from my place of work or home ( like the smell of cooking) that I cannot detect will seep into my clothing. However, I’ve got to do something. It has gotten to the point, I have to go shopping every few months for new clothing. I hate spending my hard earned cash on clothes when I could be spending money on art supplies for my classes, vacations, miscellaneous nonsense from

    • potatohead

      Hmm.. maybe stick to whites and use bleach in wash? I have a problem opposite to you, I never perspire, and I’m always cold to touch but my skin is also very dry and I use so much moisturizer on it that I feel icky to use the same thing twice. I have a friend who says her arm pits and head and genital area (apocrine) has distinctive odor, and she uses baby powder that helps her not stain clothes(!? sweat stains??)

  66. Katey

    Sorry for the late reply, but I just had to say how much I love this! It’s especially great for those of us who don’t own a washer and dryer. The communal one at my apartment building is a looong walk away (while carrying a big basket of laundry, of course) and not washing as often saves me tons of time as well as quarters!

  67. Kim B.

    Another late reply but I just found this particular blog entry. So glad to find other women are doing this too! I’m a nurse working in a setting where I do not have direct patient care. I work 3 days a week and I wear the same pair of navy scrub pants every day and just change out the tops that I wear daily. We’re supposed to dress business casual instead of scrubs but nobody has ever commented to me about my pants. They are comfortable and don’t wrinkle much. Depending on how hot it is in my department, I may also not wash each shirt after only one wearing. Once I get home I change into yoga pants and a t-shirt/lounge top and I have a pair of LL Bean shearling booties that I wear on my feet. I have very expensive bras that I only wash quarterly. Gasp!! I have a lot of them so I rotate every day. My sports bras are more frequently washed. I have plenty of pairs of panties and of course those are only worn once. I only wash my jeans about once every 2 weeks or so because they don’t get dirty and I hang them up once I’m home from running errands. I use the same towel for a week at a time; it gets hung to dry as soon as I use it. All in all, I only do laundry about every 2 weeks thus saving both my time and the environment. ๐Ÿ™‚

  68. diana

    So glad you came forth with this. I taught my new husband that his pants didn’t always have to go immediately to the cleaners & he now hangs them & some shirts up to air & also he now has home clothes he wears & hangs. Our cleaning bills went down astronomically.

  69. potatohead

    I wash everything that I have worn that day, even if it was just a jacket that I wore to the car and took off and didnt wear again for the rest of the day. I also can’t stand wearing the same pajamas again, and I change bed sheets maybe every two days max. I know I’m a bit obsessive, and you’re right about clothing life shortening with over washing. I also want everything cleaned in water and I dont know how many leather and silk items I have killed after single use by attempting to wash them. Some even died before first use as I like to wash newly purchased items before they come in contact with my skin. My mom would wash my jeans for me every day when i was a kid so I thought it was just the way it was. Drying bath towels and robes to use again tomorrow to me sounds DDDD: